The surging cost of rent in D.C. is leaving some college students concerned about their housing situation. The average median rent in the district for a two-bedroom apartment is $2,600 as of March, a 10 percent increase over the past year, according to Zillow, a real estate marketplace.
Rental demand is high due to an increase of homeownership costs. This past January, mortgage expenses doubled from 2.7 percent to 6.3 percent, according to Federal Reserve economic data.
This leaves many to stay within the rental market because of high costs and shortages of housing that contribute to the increase in rent. Students were faced with the consequences of the cost of rental markets, and many were scrambling to find affordable housing.
One of these students is Stevie Early, a junior in the School of Public Affairs, who had difficulties finding affordable housing over the summer. Her search ended one month before the start of the semester — Early and her three roommates each pay $957 per month, not including utilities.
“The apartments that my roommates referred to as ‘good’ were like at least $1,400 a person,” Early said. “As someone who’s from Chicago, rent is usually $800 per person, so for me, this was not normal.”
There are benefits of having an apartment in close proximity to American University, Early said. Yet, living in Friendship Heights, a seven-minute driven commute, for close to $4,000 per month isn’t accessible for all. With high gas prices over the summer, the liberty to move away to an inexpensive area also wasn’t an option for her.
The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on housing has driven up rent prices, threatening housing insecurity for college students. In May 2021, tenants held bargaining power due to the pandemic’s impact, but the D.C. government lifted the Rent Increase Prohibition, allowing landlords to increase rent for leases.
On Mar. 30, a statement released from DCHA Director Brenda Donald mentioned their progress these past two months with the Urgent Needs Campaign that inspected more than 1,000 units and are on track to complete their inspections by the end of June.
“We are working to make our units safe and habitable for our current residents while simultaneously turning units in order to bring in new residents – 500 last year and we are on track to turn an additional 500 this year,” Donald stated.
Donald continues by stating that Councilman White joined nine other Councilmembers to support Mayor Bowser’s plan to create the Stabilization and Reform (STAR) Board with a mission to advance the progress of the DC Housing agency.
On Mar. 15, the DCHA announced that the STAR Board unanimously approved their next steps to bring an additional $27 million from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) to aid infrastructure funding for the redevelopment of a 139-unit multifamily building at Barry Farm.
Yet, some students are still facing some challenges understanding the process within the rental market sector. For Early, it was a hard a search to find
In the hunt for a place to live, Early encountered listings that allegedly violated housing requirements under D.C. law. She explained that many landlords assumed students wouldn’t know tenant rights and offer “extra rooms.”
“There were a lot of places that they would say they have four bedrooms, but they really only had three bedrooms and put a divider in one,” Early said.
For inexperienced renters, especially first-time renters, lease agreements and renters’ insurance may not be communicated clearly enough by the landlord. D.C. law codifies under Code 42 the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants.
Code 42 lists that leases cannot change without the tenant’s agreement, security deposits may not exceed more than one month’s rent, a rent increase more than the Consumer Price Index requires government approval and tenants have the right to organize against discriminatory practices.
At the moment, Early and her roommates renewed their lease because the search for a more affordable place near AU seems “impossible.”
However, for international students who are unfamiliar with the DMV, the housing search itself is burdensome. That’s the case for two roommates, Yuri Takubo, a junior at the School of International Service, and Faith Chung, a junior in the School of Communication.
Moving from Japan to the United States, Takubo found it difficult to navigate the housing market for affordable rent. After becoming friends, Takubo and Chung, with the help of Chung’s dad, researched and sought places with the lowest rent cost.
“It was hard because if [Chung] wasn’t my roommate and if I didn’t have anyone else to work with, it would’ve been hard because I don’t really have anyone here who I can rely on as an adult,” Takubo said.
With the demand for on-campus housing remaining high, Takubo and Chung planned on staying on campus since they registered to study abroad for spring semester, yet shortages of spots this past spring took a toll on them.
“It’s a really bad [housing] portal system because on the first day of housing selection most spots for Nebraska [Hall] were gone and left a few students having to do random pairing,” Chung said.
Both Takubo and Chung expressed concerns with AU’s lack of support for students who don’t have the financial means to find housing on their own.
According to Takubo, on-campus jobs limit international students to under 20 hours weekly, roughly $263 biweekly to cover expenses like rent, food and utilities. Yet, their monthly rent is $2,200 excluding costs for food and transportation. This leaves students with visas to rely on these jobs as their primary income sources.
With these financial difficulties, some students are left with the inability to meet payments, find second jobs or live in overcrowded units like Early.
Increasing rents reflect a deeper conflict for students as they prepare their post-graduation plans. Early said that living postgraduate in the district is not an option for her; Takubo and Chung plan to move further into the suburbs.
“I’m hoping to stay for post-grad, but because D.C. rent is crazy high right now, my plan is to move further into Maryland or Virginia and rely on public transportation for work,” Takubo said.
This story was edited by Gabe Castro-Root, Jordan Young and Nina Heller. Copyediting done by Isabelle Kravis, Luna Jinks, Leta Lattin and Sarah Clayton.
Editor's note: This article was updated to include additional information about the DCHA.